Rebecca Tyrrel"s trouble and strife:Just why DOES my husband wear a fencing mask at barbecues?

Rebecca Tyrrel"s trouble and strife:Just why DOES my husband wear a fencing mask at barbecues?

Rebecca Tyrrel”s trouble and strife: Just why DOES my husband wear a fencing mask at barbecues

8:00 AM on 30th May 2011

Wasp paranoia: Rebecca

Wasp paranoia: Rebecca”s husband has never been stung but remains petrified

The arrival of summer unleashes horrors for our household that lie dormant during the cooler seasons. It won’t be long now, for example, before I answer the door to neighbours who will have their fingers poised over the number nine on their telephones, ready to call the Fire Brigade.

The need to apologise for Matthew’s insistence on using an entire bottle of lighter fluid on the barbecue is one of the first indignities of the summer.

The result is grey smoke hanging over the neighbourhood, wisping its way into other people’s homes. I will have heard the windows in our road being slammed shut one by one and the coughing of small children as they scurry inside to avoid the effects of excessive smoke inhalation.

Then there will be the Andy Murray Wimbledon Vigil, when Matthew paces, bellowing: ‘In the name of all the saints man, do something about that pitiful second serve. My grandmother Bessie would have hit a clean winner off that one when she was 94.’

After that will come that hardy perennial, Wasp Paranoia. Matthew has never been stung by wasp or bee.

He was once stung by a jellyfish off Sicily and survived, but he won’t talk about it now because it was a ‘near-death experience’ that he is psychologically unable to revisit.

Still, a jellyfish is not a wasp or a bee and the incident does not rule out the possibility that he could die from anaphylactic shock if he gets stung again.

Our GP refuses to give him a phial of adrenaline for injecting straight into the heart, so other precautionary measures are taken.

Perfect protection: Rebecca

Perfect protection: Rebecca”s husband Matthew doesn”t fence but owns a fencing mask (as shown by a model) to guard himself from wasps

And this is what I thought was happening when Louis, our son, ran upstairs to tell me that his father had been visiting the chest in the hall and, well, I didn’t let him finish because I assumed that what Matthew had fished out from that chest was his fencing mask and that he might be considering taking it with us when we went to a restaurant withfriends that evening. He doesn’t fence. He isn’t swashbuckling. But he does own a fencing mask.

‘Oh, no, no, no,’ he will say to anyone who remarks upon it, in his ‘where is your straitjacket’ tone of exaggerated bemusement. ‘I keep this mask to protect me from wasps.’

Thankfully, he rarely wears it in public. There was a picnic in Richmond Park in 2001, but we don’t talk about that, or to the friends concerned, any more. But Louis wasn’t in fact referring to the fencing mask. It was worse. What Matthew had unearthed was The Garment.

The Garment is the most monumentally hideous item in even Matthew’s wardrobe, which is saying something given that he has the clothes sense of a colour-blind circus act on mescaline.

I hid The Garment in the hall-chest six months ago. Not quite brave enough to throw it out, I thought that if he didn’t see it in his chest of drawers he might forget about it.

If, on the other hand, he missed it and asked where it was, I would feign ignorance and then – a few weeks later – stumble upon it and reunite him with it. Thus the worst outcome, or so I thought, would havebeen that we had a little more of the summer without having to look at him wearing The Garment. But I was wrong, the worst outcome was that while unearthing the fencing mask, he came across The Garment and put iton, thereby prompting Louis to charge up the stairs and warn me.

The Garment is a polo shirt. It is true that – about 20 years ago – when it was bought from a shop that had the decency to close within weeks of the purchase, men who had never played polo wore polo shirts.

Today no one wears them, except decorators who incorporate them into the workwear section of their wardrobes. But the real tragedy of The Garment, apart from The Garment itself, is the colour – it is a pale, greyish, deathly shade of purple. It is autopsy mauve.

Matthew does not wear it primarily to embarrass me, which can be saidfor very few of his more eccentric lifestyle choices. He genuinely believes it to be a thing of elegance and beauty. So when informed by Louis that The Garment was out, I charged downstairs, almost breaking both my legs and upon reaching Matthew inquired airily: ‘Why are you wearing that’

‘I thought I would give it an outing,’ he said. ‘Strangely, yet happily, I found it in the hall-chest. So here it is and off we go.’ I fell to my knees then. I gave up any pretence of airiness. The friends we were seeing were fashionable people. The husband wears Prada jackets. He wore one to one of Matthew’s barbecues once and three trips to the dry cleaner later it still reeked of hickory chips. His wife, meanwhile, has been known to wear vintage Dior to Tesco.

‘No, Matthew, please, no,’ I begged. I was following him around the room on my knees, hands clasped in front of me. I was humbling myself asnever before. ‘Please not The Garment. Not tonight.’

We left the house 15 minutes later. He wasn’t wearing The Garment but, like so many of my rare domestic triumphs, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Because, in his hand – in case we sat outside at the restaurant, in case of wasp attack, to be on the safe side – he was carrying the fencing mask.